Clause 14 - Establishment of centres
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham, Conservative)
I want to speak briefly and expound the point of view sent to me in a briefing from the Churches Commission for Racial Justice. The Minister may be able to respond to it in her winding-up speech.
For those who are not aware of it, the Churches Commission for Racial Justice has for some time been monitoring trends in UK and European asylum policy, together with advocacy in support of good race and community relations in Britain. It is a multi-denominational body: Churches in Britain and Ireland together have made wide representations and have considerable experience on which to base their conclusions. The CCRJ has worked with the British Medical Association, the Family Welfare Association,
Oxfam, the Refugee Council, Save the Children, the Children Society and the Transport and General Workers Union. It is therefore well worth echoing its views on this group of amendments.
The CCRJ believes that we require a more imaginative and humane approach to all aspects of the asylum process, including the reception of asylum seekers. It argues that it would not start from where we are now. However, given that part 2 of the Bill is the Government's response to the problem, it argues that four conditions must be met. First, asylum seekers should spend as short a period as possible in a centre; secondly, accommodation centres should be run as little like detention centres as possible and opportunities for engagement with the local community should be created; thirdly, any children accommodated in centres should be educated at local schools with the necessary financial resources invested in the child at the school; and fourthly, accommodation centres should be constructed and designed on a human scale.
The CCRJ goes on to say that the number of people in any given accommodation centre is less important than the circumstances in which they are accommodated. It believes that units should be varied in size, accommodating families when required. The accommodation should be safe from hazard and potential attack. The building and surrounding grounds should incorporate the concept of defensible space so that people who already feel fearful can feel safe. Any children accommodated in the centres must neither be, nor feel, at risk.
All practical facilities and services, CCRJ continues, should be supplied in an accessible, friendly and efficient way, but proper provision should be made for pastoral care and chaplaincy offered by experienced people from faiths and denominations appropriate to the asylum seekers. The CCRJ is already in contact with many of those who currently provide such support for asylum seekers, and it realises from reports that it is hard to overstate the level of stress, strain and trauma that many asylum seekers experience when they arrive. Such problems arise from the cause of their departure from their homeland, and are exacerbated by their flight to this country. CCRJ believes that accommodation centres must provide an environment that eases rather than increases suffering—a point on which we can all agree.
In conclusion, CCRJ urges the Government to use the opportunity of our debate on this group of amendments to commit themselves to taking all possible measures to ensure that the new accommodation centres are small and not institutional; that they support asylum seekers and do not add to their burdens; and that local communities are helped to engage with the asylum seekers for as long as they remain in the centres.
I hope that the Minister will respond to the points made by the CCRJ, and that they add to the debate.